Saudi Arabian GP: Preview - Haas


MoneyGram Haas F1 Team's 2023 FIA Formula 1 World Championship campaign will continue with Round 2, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

It was an encouraging start to MoneyGram Haas F1 Team's season in Bahrain as valuable lessons were learned and more insight was gained with the VF-23 for both Kevin Magnussen and Nico Hulkenberg. The race ended with Magnussen and Hulkenberg outside the points, but performance-wise the VF-23 is in the midfield ballpark and capturing top 10s remains the ambition. The accomplishment of a smooth weekend in Saudi Arabia would make that target eminently reachable.

MoneyGram Haas F1 Team drivers Magnussen and Hulkenberg were absent from Saudi Arabia's Formula 1 debut in 2021 - but both were active for its sophomore event in 2022. Magnussen scored points after securing ninth position, having qualified inside the top 10, while Hulkenberg finished 12th during a substitute appearance for Aston Martin F1.

Jeddah Corniche Circuit remains in its infancy, but it has already established itself as a challenging venue. Stretching out across 6.1km adjacent to the Red Sea, it is among Formula 1's fastest circuits, with the spectacle heightened by the close proximity of the unforgiving walls. The safety car has made an appearance in both grands prix in Saudi Arabia while 2021's debut race was twice red-flagged because of accidents.

The infrequent use of the Jeddah Corniche Circuit means track evolution through the grand prix weekend is likely to be high, while teams and drivers must also be mindful of the changing track temperature in qualifying and the race, which both begin beneath the lights at 20:00 local time.

Several days removed from the opening round in Bahrain - what are your reflections on the race weekend as a whole and specifically the performance of the VF-23?
Guenther Steiner: "It was quite challenging because we had pre-season testing and then there was very little time before the race. All in all, even if we had struggles in the race, qualifying was good. We got one car into Q3 and for Nico to come back after three years of not having a full-time drive, it was a very good result for the team. We could've done better than tenth, but we were happy with it. In the race it didn't start too well, for Nico it wasn't an ideal start knocking off the front wing endplate, and Kevin was the only one on the hard tire to start which put him in difficulties. All in all though, I think the performance is there in the VF-23, we just need to get it out permanently at all the races - so I'm really looking forward to those races."

Looking at the Bahrain Grand Prix as a whole, what stood out for you across the field and was there any element of surprise to other cars in race-trim from what you'd initially observed in testing?
GS: "Like everyone, we were surprised by the positive performance of Aston Martin and Alonso. I think they've done a very good job over the winter with their car and now they're tipped to be on top this year. During the race they had very good race pace with Red Bull, and those two cars stand out in the field at the moment."

The driver pairing of Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen feels like a familiar partnership already - was this echoed in what you saw of them working together across testing and the first race in Bahrain? What elements did you see Nico bringing to the table at the likes of session debriefs etc?
GS: "They're working well together and there is respect between them. It's very good for Kevin to have a teammate with experience and what Nico brings with him is experience. The race engineers clearly feel like they get a lot of information from him after each session, which will bring the race weekend forward, but also overall the race team forward, performance-wise."

Next up we head to the Jeddah Corniche Circuit for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. What are the key learnings from Bahrain that will be applied across the weekend in Saudi Arabia?
GS: "Jeddah is a little bit different in terms of layout compared to Bahrain but everything that we learned in Bahrain will help us set-up the car better for Saudi Arabia. Hopefully we get it in a good window and then we can extract the full potential of the VF-23, resulting in points."

You achieved ninth place in Saudi Arabia last year. Did that validate that the VF-22 could achieve good results last season and it wasn't a lucky one-off at the season opener?
Kevin Magnussen: "Last year, Saudi Arabia was a strong weekend. Coming away from Bahrain with a fifth place and coming to Jeddah, expectations were high and the pace was good in the car. We got a bit unlucky with strategy - the safety car came out at a vulnerable time for us - but we still managed to score a few points and I hope we can be strong here again this year."

There are multiple track changes this season, including special 'rumble lines' being added at Turns 3, 14, 19, 20 and 21, while beveled kerbs have been added at Turns 4, 8, 10, 11, 17 and 23. What do you make of the circuit?
KM: "I think it's a great circuit. Last year was my first time there and it's a really fun and exciting track to drive, so I hope it hasn't changed too much or at least not changed for the worse. I hope it's still going to be a thrilling place to drive. It's a circuit where confidence with the car counts for a lot - you need to be confident and happy with the car and happy to push because it's a pretty flat-out track."

After only two races the Jeddah Corniche Circuit has become known for how tough it is on drivers, with any small error costing greatly. Do you approach races like this differently or does a driver only have one approach coming into the weekend - finding the limit.
KM: "Some places you go to you find the groove very quickly and I felt that was the case in Jeddah last year. It's one of those tracks that I really like and where there are a lot of consequences for going over the limit, and getting close to the limit is harder than going to other tracks with run-off."

After Bahrain and then Jeddah, which is higher downforce, do you think the team will have a full picture of how this car handles?
KM: "I think it will take a few races, it's not like if we have two good races or two bad races that we can conclude much. We'll get a rough idea of where we stack-up but I expect the midfield to be that close that it could easily change on other tracks later on in the year. There's also a lot of development going on in all teams and good or bad, we just need to stay focused."

You achieved 12th place in your second race as a 'super-sub' in 2022 - what's your assessment of the track?
Nico Hulkenberg: "The track is unique and special. It's unbelievably fast given it's a street circuit and it definitely gives you a huge rush and kick. It's very challenging and technical but I enjoyed it there last year and hopefully I'm going to enjoy it more this year."

After only two races the Jeddah Corniche Circuit has become known for how tough it is on drivers, with any small error costing greatly. Do you approach races like this differently or does a driver only have one approach coming into the weekend - finding the limit.
NH: "It's a street circuit so you always start off a little bit on the safer side and lap-by-lap, session-by-session move it up, pushing harder, getting closer to the limit and taking bigger risks. In qualifying, a small mistake could have detrimental consequences, and you are aware of that as a driver. It's all about the risk versus reward management that we do constantly."

After Bahrain and then Jeddah, which is higher downforce, do you think the team will have a full picture of how this car handles?
NH: "Jeddah is obviously the second race and it's got very different track characteristics from Bahrain, but then every other track afterwards is also a bit different so it's going to take longer than two races to understand the car fully and see which characteristics it suits or not. We're in a 'work in progress' situation where things are still very dynamic and are at an early stage and can change a lot."

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Published: 14/03/2023
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